The European Union has pledged to provide an additional 2.7 million euros for a major landmine removal effort in Colombia, according to local news outlet El Colombiano. This is on top of the 4 million euros of contributions approved in 2015 for similar work and will help a nation nearing peace improve safety in rural lands riddled with mines laid by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas and other armed groups over the past 60 years.
This news comes just as Colombian President Juan Santos announced a major new landmine removal project that he called the biggest on the planet. According to the president, who spoke to the nation on Sunday, the massive program will begin with some 5,000 military engineers covering 400 areas. The number of engineers may eventually double as the nation pushes to completely clear all the mines by 2021. “It is an expensive, dangerous — but absolutely necessary — job,” said President Santos.
The newly announced EU funds will be administered through the U.K.-based mine-clearing non-profit organization The Halo Trust over the next year and a half. It expects to be able to clear 78,000 square meters of landmines with the new resources, which will be used to hire local personnel, secure mine-sniffing dogs, and coordinate other necessary procedures.
“For the European Union it is important to support Colombia in its action against mines, which is a comprehensive policy that covers a wide range of interventions in the assistance of victims, information systems, prevention, and awareness or mine clearance,” said Ana Paula Zacarias, the EU ambassador in Colombia, per El Colombiano.
At least 11,000 people — including more than 4,000 civilians — have been killed or injured by landmines in Colombia since 1990, according to The Halo Trust. In 2014 alone, 286 of 3,678 global mine victims recorded by the organization came from Colombia, making it the second-most mine-affected country in the world.
Such human suffering won’t cease even after peace is reached with the FARC until all the landmines are disposed of. And the turn in the price of oil and subsequent devaluation of the local peso means that funding this — and all post-conflict programs — will be much harder than anticipated when the peace talks began in 2012.
While the United States, European Union, United Kingdom, and Canada, among other nations and international organizations have pledged financial support, there remains a large gap. The government has been cutting its overall budget in a transition to austerity over the past two years, so finding the revenue to fund peace is now harder than ever.
Some have estimated that all the post-conflict programs — including victim restitution, land reform, crop substitution, and many development programs — could cost up to $90 billions USD over the next decade. The Colombian government has estimated that landmine removal alone will cost at least $200 million USD.
Photo: Colombians march in protest of people victimized by guerrilla groups including the FARC and the ELN (Credit: Marco Suárez)